Above six thousand metres

June 1, 2023

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My journey to the peak of Imja Tse or Island Peak in Nepal at 6,165 metres helped me rediscover myself in a new light.

As the climbing became more and more difficult and I grew exasperated, I told my guide, “Tenzi, this climb is insanely difficult!” He replied, “Climb up, this is why you are here.”

This line worked like magic. To reach the summit, I still needed to climb nearly 150 metres of vertical wall. The sun was shining gloriously and Tenzi Sherpa, my guide, was leading the way, slowly ascending up the fixed rope.

The most difficult thing I ever did in my life was to reach the peak of Imja Tse or Island Peak (6,165 metres). When I looked around from the summit, my entire universe was redefined in the blink of an eye.

The south face of Lhotse (the world’s fourth-highest mountain, 8,516 metres) embraced me with its cold, silent, and majestic orientation. Imja Lake, Ama Dablam (6,812 metres), Makalu (the world’s fifth highest mountain, 8,481 metres), and many other peaks greeted me like never before. The white wonderland rendered me speechless and engulfed me in the most wonderful experience of my life. Throughout my travelling life, I was usually a solo backpacker. I was closely monitoring the mountaineers and was astounded by their achievements. Even five years ago, I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, climbing a mountain, experiencing the sensation of thin air, and confronting Mother Nature in her most ferocious form.

Photo: Md Adnan Khairullah

My entire focus was diverted while exploring Ladakh in 2018. I was staring around, breathless, at the gorgeous mountain peaks that looked to be a genuine invitation to ascend. On April 23, 2023, after five years of overcoming numerous challenges, my dream became a reality.

On April 14 of this year, I flew to Kathmandu, then to Lukla, the world’s most dangerous airport. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I was greeted by the countless rhododendron blooms that surrounded the airport.

Photo: Md Adnan Khairullah

The magnificent hike began after collecting all the permits in Lukla. The entire trail was embellished with the gorgeous rhododendron flowers, multiple suspension bridges, beautiful villages, hundreds of green and snow-capped mountains, wildlife, and numerous other things.

I set out on the most gratifying solo trek of my life to the base camp of Island Peak, passing through famous mountain communities like Namche Bazar, Phakding, Thyangboche, Dingboche etc.

I took the obligatory acclimatisation hike to the Everest View Hotel, Khumjung village, Khumjung monastery (where I saw the fabled ‘yeti skull’) and Nangkartshang peak (5,083 metres) before reaching base camp.

It started snowing the day I arrived in Chukhung (the last settlement before Island Peak Base Camp), and by afternoon, it had turned into a snowstorm.

I was constantly trying to distract myself from the psychological pressure of the summit push in the bad weather. Fortunately, the sky was unusually clear the next morning, and the first rays of sunshine made the white valley look like a bit of Eden. My climbing guide and I set out for the base camp.

It started snowing the day I arrived in Chukhung (the last settlement before Island Peak Base Camp), and by afternoon, it had turned into a snowstorm.

I was constantly trying to distract myself from the psychological pressure of the summit push in the bad weather.

Fortunately, the sky was unusually clear the next morning, and the first rays of sunshine made the white valley look like a bit of Eden. My climbing guide and I set out for the base camp.

It was an entirely different experience. I wore my first climbing boots and crampons, went on my first ice wall climbing training, had dinner at the cooking tent, met other climbers, and slept above 5,000 metres. Tenzi Sherpa and I pushed for the summit at 1:30am on April 23, 2023.

It was a freezing, dark night with about 1,100 metres of altitude gain to the summit as we up-climbed in pitch-black darkness with the help of a little headlamp. My guide was leading me like an angel through the harsh and unwelcoming terrain.

In this tremendously hazardous setting, a single mistake may end up in a life-threatening incident. I was focused, cautious, and occasionally intimidated. It was challenging—far more difficult than I had anticipated.

I reached the summit at 8:05am after crossing numerous sharp mountain ridges and ice-covered valleys, negotiating crevasses with ladders, performing real-life vertical climbing, and pushing myself every minute with only 47% oxygen (compared to sea-level) in the air.

My wildest dream came true! It was the most stunning sunrise I have ever seen: a clear, blue sky with a glimpse of spectacular mountains in the world’s highest mountain range.

Photo: Md Adnan Khairullah

I was overwhelmed with emotions and felt amazement and wonder, as well as gratitude to the Almighty for helping me reach my goal. After spending five to six minutes on the summit, it was time to safely descend. I was exhausted but I needed to stay alert for a safe descent.

After thanking everyone at the base camp, I returned to Dingboche to meet my amazing agent, Hemanta Shrestha, to return the climbing gear and express gratitude for his support. Then I headed to Lukla and took another scary mountain flight back to Kathmandu. From the summit push to my successful descent to base camp, it took me a total of 10.5 hours.

Throughout the return journey, I was overwhelmed by the appreciation from hundreds of hikers, climbers, locals, and my fellow countrymen for my first successful summit of a mountain above 6,000 metres.

Climbing mountains has broadened my horizons and given me an entirely fresh perspective on the world. After navigating Mother Nature in her most unwelcoming form, I discovered myself to be an entirely different entity. It humbled me while also inspiring me to take on new challenges.

I would like readers to know that reaching the summit is not something that happens by chance; it necessitates a significant amount of labour, sacrifice, focus, research, and, most obviously, a fat sum of money.

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